Forgiving God? 

Forgiving God? 

Plans sputter, hopes crumble, relationships derail, or evil exposes itself. I know I did my part – but God didn’t come through. Because life is full of disappointments, modern pastors and writers inform me, it must also be full of forgiveness. Their sage advice? Loosely commandeering Psalm 142:2, they urge cultivating a lifestyle of forgiving others, forgiving myself, and forgiving God to move forward. After all, they assert, forgiveness is “for me.” Some go so far as to assert that forgiving God is required, arguing unforgiveness affects my faith, intimacy with God, and eternity.[1]

As with the error of forgiving myself,[2] this is an argument from silence – not from Scripture. Isaiah and Jeremiah faced unspeakable horrors under God’s providences toward Israel; Paul’s list of sufferings for Christ makes me wince every time I read it (2 Cor 11:16-33 and 12:5-10); but none of these men forgave God. Saint after saint in Scripture “endured as seeing him who was invisible” (Heb 11:27). There’s not a hint of charging God with wrongdoing.

But what goes unrecognized? Forgiving God is deeply theological in nature. It forges my working confession of faith: shaping my worship, framing my life, and demonstrating my operative approach to Scripture. Consider the articles implied in my “forgiveness.”

  1. God failed; and fundamentally, he failed me. In my disappointment, I learn God made a mistake: this means he was wrong, he erred. This instance may have been something he couldn’t handle, foresee, or accomplish…turns out he’s mostly sovereign, though perhaps not meticulously so.
  2. Therefore, God must be somewhat imperfect. Nobody is entirely perfect; limitations and flaws characterize all beings in a fallen world, which necessarily includes God. The Creator is more like his creatures than his word attests; even his wisdom and judgments stumble sometimes.
  3. Hence, I must consider God insufficient. I may cast many of my cares upon him, perhaps even most of them; he cares for me, but can’t always do anything about it. I must face facts: sometimes God loses, evil wins, and hope is deferred, awaiting “next time.”
  4. Because of this, God might not always be trusted. He means well in Scripture, though he can be a bit unreliable or unrealistic in what he says there. Like a kindly uncle who does his best, he’s usually good for what he promises.
  5. Consequently, God isn’t entirely truthful in the Bible. He means most of what he says there, but everyone exaggerates periodically. Most of his ways are just; many of his paths are lovingkindness; and his mercies are over a majority of his works. In quite a few things, he works for my good; but “all” doesn’t always mean all in these verses.
  6. My conclusion must be, God raised my hopes and handled my situation in a misleading way. He thus wronged me, which means he sinned – and he sinned against me. Since God is a sinner, I must forgive him. 

These unspoken assertions may be unconscious, unintended, and unconsidered, but they’re active. Advocates immediately distance themselves from such conclusions, but they ultimately can’t: against the plumbline of God’s word, “forgiving God” belies utter egocentricity. It smacks of self-realization, not Scripture, anchoring in theories of positive thinking and pop psychology. My final decision clarifies and codifies my operative theology, irrespective of any creedal orthodoxy I may recite on Sundays. It displays human wisdom at its finest, but not the wisdom of the Cross. 

And make no mistake here – to forgive God is to assert that he wronged me. Scripture is replete with its praises of God’s perfections, wisdom, and faithfulness: “all his ways are just” (Dt 32:4). “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ps 25:10). His “goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life” (Ps 23:6). If God deals wrongly with me, God has sinned, and he is no God at all – certainly not the perfect God Scripture describes.

God’s answer is to behold his character in his word. He is my Rock, strength, fortress, and deliverer (Ps 18:1-2). He alone is good (Mk 10:18). He has no shadow of turning due to change (Jas 1:17). His faithfulness surrounds him (Ps 89:8); righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne, while steadfast love and faithfulness go before him (Ps 89:14). His wise purposes are infinitely higher than my puny pay grade merits clearance to understand (Isa 55:8). I must humble myself under his mighty hand (1 Pet 5:6), not think of myself more highly than I ought (Rom 12:3), submit myself to his faithful disposal of my life (Isa 64:8), and repent of such shameful pride as to think the thrice-holy Lord needs anything from me – much less my forgiveness.

Job charged God with wrongdoing and received three chapters of rebuke (Job 39-41): “where were you when I formed the earth by my wisdom?” I must learn the humility of a creature, that there are many – if not most or all – things beyond my grasp, and that God’s ways and wisdom are not my own. Scripture assures me this King is for me, not against me (Rom 8:31ff), calling me to entrust myself to him amidst the hardest providences. It is not my place to lash out in sinful anger against God (1 Pet 4:19), for “in him there is no sin” (1 Jn 3:5). He alone who is “holy, blameless, and undefiled” (Heb 7:26) is full of mercy to every sinner who will look to him – mercy and grace to help us in time of need (Heb 4:14-16). 

[1] For example, see R.T. Kendall’s Totally Forgiving God: Even When It Seems Like He Has Betrayed You (Charisma House, 2012).

[2] See the companion article “Forgiving Myself?” in this edition of The Founders Journal.

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